( a demonstration using a water purifier) I have a bit of trouble on my hands. I keep getting dirty water out of my water purifier. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, dirty water constantly comes out. I know! I’ll put cleaner water into it. Perhaps the water I am putting through the filter is dirty and needs to be cleaned first. Here, nice clean tap water is going in…oooh but look, the water coming out is still dirty. I know, perhaps if I polish the glass bowl then water will come out clean (clean it)….no, that doesn’t seem to work. Well, perhaps if I polish the whole outer casing and keep polishing it while the water goes through, then I might get clean water out of the filter…no. O boy, what now?
What would need to happen for clean, filtered water to come out? Yes, I need to address the problem occurring inside the purifier. (put in a new filter, turn on tap and watch the clean water come out). The reason why I was getting dirty water coming out of the purifier was because the inside the purifier was dirty, making the water come out dirty. Changing the water made no difference, because the water going in was not the problem. Cleaning the outside of the purifier makes no difference either. I could polish all I like, it could be the shiniest purifier you have ever seen, but if the inside is dirty, then the water will be dirty; its not what goes into a purifier that makes things dirty, its what’s inside that make the water come out dirty.
Jesus spoke very similar words to the Pharisees and his disciples, who were caught up in external religious traditions. “It’s not external cleaning and religious acts that make a person clean before God’, he argued. The Pharisees in particular, but the disciples were not exempt, were very devoted to polishing up their morals by religious works; cleaning all the ‘outside’ parts of the body in order to remain clean before God. Believe it or not, there were over 600 ‘little laws’ to ensure people remained clean before God; all very religious looking, all external ceremonial acts that presumed to give people clean hearts. Like me washing and polishing the purifier, it all looks good, yet had no effect on the water purity!
When they complained that Jesus’ disciples never ceremonially wash their hands before eating, Jesus said ‘”Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'”
You can wash, polish, shine ceremonially and religiously clean all you like, but its what’s in your heart that makes you unclean. Like the purifier, the dirt inside causes the water to come out dirty; the heart of the purifier, the filter, needs to be clean. Jesus is pointing to the sinful heart of people; it’s the heart that makes you unclean. Its the heart that is sinful, or dirty by nature and out of the heart comes all the sinful acts, making us unclean before God; it is the heart that needs to be cleaned.
As part of the confirmation course, the confirmees have been looking at this exact issue; what it means to be a Christian. We discussed what faith is, why be a Christian? Is it about being religious? Is it just about morals and doing good things to be clean before God? On camp in Orange, we discussed what is right and wrong, and what causes us to sin? Is it external temptations? Temptations like the ease of illegally burning CD’s. Is it the ‘software manufactures’ fault we illegally copy CD’s or is it that we are sinful by nature and misuse legal equipment for illegal purposes. Are we being externally influenced or is it the sin already in us that cause us to do wrong things?
Think about these confirmation questions in light of Jesus’ words. ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’. Jesus clearly answers our question, its not external influences which cause us to sin, no, we sin from the inside out. Our hearts are like the dirty water filter, what comes out of our heart causes us to sin. So no matter how hard we try to live a ‘clean life’, we can never have a clean heart before God.
For this very reason, that we cannot clean our hearts, Jesus came into this world. It is precisely because external acts can’t clean, that Christ Jesus came to make us clean. St Paul knew this well and says, and I’ll paraphrase ‘Therefore no one will be declared clean in the sight of God by observing law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sinful heart. But now a cleanliness from God, apart from trying to clean ourselves, has been made known, to which the bible and the Prophets testify. This cleanliness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’
This cleanliness from God has been given to us as a gift in our baptism. It is through the waters of baptism that our hearts have been washed clean; cleansed from sin and born again pure and clean before God; in a similar way to the new filter in the purifier. Though we cannot see the filter, we trust that a clean filter has been fitted and is working. In the same way, we cannot see our clean heart, we can’t comprehend how God can do this, but we trust that Jesus has cleansed us and made us clean before God through baptism.
Dilly, Joshua, Aaron, Ashley and William, this is the good news you have heard, and this is the good news that you will soon confess before us to say you believe. It is the good news that Jesus has come to cleans your heart. It’s the good news that your external good works cannot make you clean, but it is by faith in Jesus, and the power of baptism that makes you clean before God. It is the good news that is central to the faith of the Lutheran church; it is the Lutheran trilogy of the clean heart ‘ by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone’. This is the constant cry of the Lutheran church among believers and non-believers alike, and it is a call that you have heeded and the call you believe.
Our prayer for you today is not that, now you are confirmed, you fulfil all your external Christian duties by regularly attending church, going to bible studies and be a squeaky clean Christian, though all important. No, our prayer for you today is that you will not depend on being ‘externally clean’ for salvation, but that you depend on no other than Christ Jesus for your salvation and a clean heart, and that all good deeds flow out of this. Our pray for you today is that the Holy Spirit will strengthen your faith, fill your life with joy and assurance and give you the courage to live as a child of God, safe in the promise of your baptism.